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PHIL 4406

Hume’s Argument and solution to Induction In this paper, I will argue that while Hume provides a strong argument against induction, his skeptical solution almost disregards what he took the time to prove and weakens the importance of the original argument. First, I will reconstruct Hume’s skeptical argument against induction, showing how Hume proves that knowledge concluded by inductive reasoning is ultimately unjustifiable because of the nature of this type of reasoning. Next, I will present the skeptical solution Hume offers in response to his conclusions. Then I will briefly explain how that skeptical solution might be objected to because it concedes the argument. Finally, I will draw my own conclusions and explain why I think Hume’s right in both his conclusion on inductive reasoning and his solution. I will now begin with recreating Hume’s skeptical argument against induction. Hume starts off by giving us the simple premise, “All objects of inquiry are either relations of ideas or matters of fact” (336). This is solely determined by Hume in his method of categorizing ideas. What gives Hume the right to say this one might ask? Hume would say he can say this because that is how he divided all knowledge. You will not find anything that does not fall into one of these categories just because of the definition and generality of the categories. Arelation of an idea is basically any statement whose validity is based on the definitions of the words. The opposite of a relation of an idea is not logically possible because it goes against the definition of the words. On the other hand, a matter of fact is something whose truth is based on experience and cause and effect. Hume’s next step in the argument is to use a matter of fact as a guide to get us to where he wants to go in the argument. In his original argument, Hume uses the matter of fact “The sun will rise tomorrow” (337). To be original, I will use the phrase “Philosophy is fun!” to guide us through the rest of the argument. So, the second premise of the proof, taken directly from the first, says that the statement “Philosophy is fun!” is either a matter of fact or a relation of an idea. Premise three asserts that the contrary to “Philosophy is fun!” is logically possible because of the definition of the words. The definition of ‘Philosophy,’does not relate anything about it having to be fun and similarly, ‘fun’does not necessarily have to have anything to do with philosophy. Therefore, by premises two and three, and the definition of ‘a matter of fact,’ “Philosophy is fun!” must be a matter of fact. An objection to the above reasoning of premises three and four is that they suggest that definitions divide things in the world evenly. One could argue however, that words are often ambiguous and do not allow for things to divide nicely. For example, take the word ‘idiot’. The definition of an idiot is someone who is senseless or mentally lacking. Therefore, an infant can technically be considered an idiot and the phrase, “an infant is an idiot,” by definition has to be a relation of an idea rather than a matter of fact. We do not commonly think of infants as being idiots because we understand that they need time to grow and learn. Thus, language can be ambiguous. To continue with Hume’s argument, after premise four asserts that “Philosophy is fun!” must be a matter of fact, Hume can say, “the nature of all our reasoning concerning matter of fact… is founded on the relation of cause and effect” (339). This, to Hume, is the basic definition of a matter of fact, where “one effect may be justly inferred from another. You touch a stove and it burns you, you touch the snow and feel cold; these are just a few examples of cause and effect. According to Hume, “Causes and effects are discoverable, not by reason but by experience” (339). Therefore, matters of fact are shaped and determined through our past experiences. From here, we can get premise six; “Philosophy is fun” is provable only inductively. This claim is based on the definition of inductive reasoning, reasoning through past experiences to come to a general conclusion. Experience has told us that Philosophy has been fun in the past so we are inclined to make the general statement, “Philosophy is fun”. Premise seven states that all induction assumes that the future is like the past. Hume justifies this by conceptually analyzing the term, ‘inductive reasoning’. Induction, by nature, takes past experiences to predict a future outcome, or generalize something for future use. Thus, every time we generalize or predict we are doing so because we believe that the same rules and laws of nature that apply now and applied in our past will still govern things that happen in the future. At this point Hume turns the argument against itself. Premise eight echoes premise two but switches out the example with the phrase, “The future is like the past”. So now, by the reasoning in premise one again, the statement, “The future is like the past” is either a matter of fact or a relation of an idea. Hume again asserts in premise nine, that the contrary to “the future is like the past” is conceivable or logically possible. One might argue here that it is not logically possible to have a future that is not governed by the same laws of nature as our past does now just based on the pure definition of ‘law of nature’. However, for Hume, a law of nature is just any reoccurrence in nature, not necessarily a rule that cannot logically be broken. Hume would also argue that we have seen the laws of nature broken before (i.e in nature, a human cannot normally rotate his hand around his forearm 360 degrees but we have seen the rare occurrence happen before) so therefore, we can logically conceive of a future different from our past. Because we can conceive of a future that is different from our past, “the future is like the past,” by definition, is a matter of fact. Premise eleven then claims the “The future is like the past” is only provable inductively because of premises four, five, and nine, all of which just relate that experience gives rise to cause and effect and which then gives rise to induction. The future does not have any definition saying , “this is what the future will be like,” and we have no way of knowing what it will be like, therefore; we have to guess based on our past experiences. This is where the argument fall apart
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